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Book Club Questions for The Painting by Alison Booth

Do you belong to a book club? Would you like some questions that might help kick off a lively discussion aboutThe Painting? If so, here are some suggestions…

The novel begins in Sydney not long before the breakup of the Soviet Union: Anika, a traumatised young immigrant from Hungary, inherits an impressionist portrait of an auburn-haired woman. Knowing nothing of its provenance, Anika takes it to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, where the curators identify it as being the work of Impressionist artist Rocheteau. Shortly afterwards, the painting is stolen, and Anika is left wondering whom she can really trust. With a police investigation underway and a handful of suspects in the frame, she decides to take matters into her own hands. But soon she receives a nasty shock about the possible origins of her painting, and she knows she must travel back to Budapest – so that she can track down the truth and confront the ghosts of her grandmother’s past. And of her own.

There are three main historical periods in the story of The Painting – the Siege of Budapest in the Second World War, the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, and the breakup of the Soviet Union. Why do you think that Alison chose to begin her novel in the year 1989, rather than starting it in the Second World War and moving forward chronologically?

The three main female characters in the novel are all related. They are the grandmother Nyenye, the aunt Tabilla, and the young woman Anika. In your opinion, how have the characters of these three women been affected by their differing experiences during their formative years?

What are the main themes of the novel? To what extent is the novel a story of a stolen painting and to what extent is it an antiwar novel?

The novel is set in Budapest and in Sydney. Compare and contrast these different environments and consider what they contribute to the narrative.

Why has art become so important to Anika and her grandmother? How important is the theft of the painting to the main arc of the story?

Does the story resonate with you in terms of what is happening in Central and Eastern Europe currently?


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